Rugby union is leaving itself open to potential legal claims over its approach to dealing with players who have suffered from repeated concussion, according to Barry O'Driscoll, a former medical adviser to the International Rugby Board. The former Ireland player believes lawyers will be "licking their lips" in response to the sport's attempts to manage the issue via the Pitch Side Concussion Assessment programme.
O'Driscoll believes the sport could face having to make a similar payout to the one American football's National Football League agreed earlier this year, settling a total of £490m to 4,500 former players who accused the NFL of misleading them on the dangers of head injuries.
The PSCA was introduced last year – O'Driscoll then resigned from the IRB – in order to try to better deal with the problem of concussion. It involves team medics deciding whether a player can continue after suffering a blow to the head. Within five minutes the doctor has to take the player from the pitch, ask a series of questions, check for symptoms, conduct balance tests and make a decision as to whether the player can play on.
Some want the process to be extended to 15 or 20 minutes but O'Driscoll wants any player with suspected concussion to be taken off and kept off. If under the PSCA a player is allowed to return to action and in years to come is hampered by possible connected problems then the sport could be held legally responsible, O'Driscoll believes.
"It's just waiting to happen," he said during a concussion forum hosted by the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players' Association at Twickenham. "When these guys who have had a PSCA have gone back on, when in five years they get depressed or migrained and they have been told none of this. They say there is no risk to you [from this concussion]. No doctor would ever say this to their patient. The lawyers are licking their lips."